Christmas Day Sermon 2016

27 12 2016

Words are difficult.  Words, be they spoken or read, are signifiers, meaning they are concepts which signify things.  For us in the western world, which words are used and how they are used matter a great deal, but the words themselves are less a reality than the things they represent.

And the Word became flesh.  Talk about two mutually exclusive terms, here they are:  word and flesh.  Words represent things.  Flesh is touchable.  Yet, this is the Word who was in the beginning, the Word who is God.  This is the Word who isn’t a concept that signifies things.  This is the Word that commands and all things submit, the Word who brought all things into being.  When God speaks, His Word is active and makes stuff happen!

The Word became flesh.  This Word became touchable and made His dwelling among us.  From the very beginning, God’s desire was never a long-distance relationship.  God’s intimate communion with Adam was evident as God the creator spoke directly to His creature, the man.  Yet, this intimate communion was destroyed in the Fall.  The image of God, that special relationship, was broken, lost because of man’s disobedience.

Now the Word who is God from the beginning has become flesh.  He has come among us by becoming one of us.  He has come with a specific purpose in mind.  John wrote in today’s Gospel, and I’m using my own translation here:

For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth happened through Jesus Christ.

The Law has a mediator named Moses.  Moses speaks for Yahweh, the God of the Israelites, but he isn’t Yahweh.  Yahweh is is the God who speaks, who commands nature, who establishes His people.  Yet, He speaks through His prophet Moses.

Now Yahweh the God of the Israelites, the speaking God who is His Word that makes things happen, He has become flesh.  There is no mediator here, for Jesus Christ is grace and truth.  Grace and truth happen because of Jesus.  He is the favor of God toward sinners.  He is the only true way to life.  There is no longer a long distance relationship or conversation with His fallen creatures, for the Word who is God, who speaks, who is grace and truth, has made His dwelling place among us that He might save us.

With His word, He continues to speak.  He speaks water into wine.  He speaks sight to the blind.  He speaks life into the dead.  His voice weeps over the death of a friend.  He cries out in anguish as He is crucified.  Finally, He speaks redemption’s price paid, crying out from the cross, “It is finished.”

Grace and truth happened through Jesus Christ, for He has spoken it.  Grace and truth continue to happen.  The Word did not stay in some ethereal realm.  He did not sit in heaven, punching buttons and making things happen.  No, the Word became flesh.  He made His dwelling among us, being grace and truth, for He longs to be near us.  He continues to come among us in the mysteries He has given His Church.

Every time His Word is proclaimed…  Here at Mt. Olive, as a simple, bald, overweight guy proclaims the simple Word of God, Jesus is pleased to come to His people.  Jesus is grace and truth.  Grace and truth happen not because the preacher is so great, but because Jesus is here according to His promise.

Every time the word of absolution is spoken to a sinner, assuring him of sins forgiven, grace and truth happen because the Word made flesh dwells among us.  Every time a sinner is rinsed clean in the refreshing water of Holy Baptism, there the Word made flesh brings grace and truth to happen, and a sinner is declared a saint for Jesus’ sake.  Every time a believer feasts and hears the Word being grace and truth, “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins,” the Word who became flesh is grace and truth among us.  Behind His chosen mysteries, the Word made flesh still dwells among us.  He still makes grace and truth happen among us.

As believers who have been washed, who have heard their sins released, who have been fed and nourished on that which was given and shed for their forgiveness go about their daily vocations, the Word who became flesh is grace and truth.  In the lives of mothers and fathers and students and children and workers, the word made flesh is grace and truth in this world which was made through Him.

Last night, our Jewish neighbors began the season of Hannukah.  Hannukah sometimes called the festival of lights.  If you’ve never read the story, take some time to do it.  It’s remarkable.  As the first candle of the Menorah is lighted, the blessing is recited:  Blessed are you, O Lord our God, king of the universe, for You have sanctified us with Your commandments and commanded us to light the lights of Hannukah.

From the very first days of the tabernacle in the wilderness, a light was to be burning first in the tent and then, later, in the temple.  The light needed in the temple was the light of Yahweh, the God of the Israelites.  It was the same light that burned in the tabernacle and called to a young man named Samuel.

My dear brothers and sisters who gather together in the name of Christ, the light for the temple is no longer only a commemoration.  It is no longer far away or a distant memory or fantastic future.  The light is Jesus, the Word made flesh who has made His dwelling among us.  He has come to us, becoming one of us in order that He might be the atoning sacrifice for us.  We are redeemed by His blood.  He is grace and truth; He makes grace and truth happen among us.  In Him, and in Him alone, there is life.

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Christmas Eve 2016 Sermon

27 12 2016

Sermon Text:  Luke 2:1-20

In the beginning, the Lord God told the man of the forbidden fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil:  On the day you eat of it, you will surely die.  We all know what happened.  The man and his wife ate of the fruit.  They rebelled.  Some have tried to pin the guilt on the Creator, but the fact remains:  Even though all the trees of the Garden were good for food, the man and the woman in open rebellion, in an act of willful disobedience at the fruit.  They would die.  So would their offspring.  As offspring of the man and the woman, we die, too.  As a matter of fact, unless our Lord Jesus appears in glory, you will all die and so will I.  Merry Christmas, indeed.

That’s a strange way to begin a sermon on Christmas Eve, isn’t it?  All the attempts at happiness, the façade of peace and good cheer, the mountains of gifts, the novelty might last all through Christmas Day.  So, just put those out of your mind for a while.  St. Paul wrote in Romans 6:  The wages of sin is death.  You will die because you have sinned.  I will die because I have sinned.  Sure we love those j-i-n-g-l-e bells.

 

If sin’s wages is death, let’s do something about our sin, but we don’t even know the depth of our sin.  We’d like for it to be a set of directions like putting together a model, but it’s not.  The curse is that the one who sins dies.  If the sinner dies, he can’t do anything about his sin because he’s dead.  That’s the depth of our sin.  We are trapped, enslaved, and cannot free ourselves.  Have a holly, jolly Christmas.  Uh-huh.

While we don’t know the depth of our sin, there is one who does.  The angel told a bunch of smelly shepherds about Him.  The angel’s message changes everything…EVERYTHING!

On this night when death doesn’t take a holiday, when the effects of the curse are all around – violence and hatred and, closer to home, sickness and surgeries and relapses and things not turning out the way we planned – when we mourn the loss of a loved one, a little word in the angel’s message gives the greatest comfort.  It’s four letters in Greek, two short words in English.  Here’s my translation of that little phrase:

For today in the city of David has been brought forth FOR YOU a Savior who is Christ the Lord.

FOR YOU – one little word in Greek, two little words in English.  Brought forth FOR YOU a Savior.  Those words are cosmic.  They shake the universe to its very core.  The Creator and Redeemer, the only one who can do something about our condition has come to do something about it.

 

This little one brought forth and laid in a manger, the one who is Christ, is Lord.  He is Lord.  He is redeemer for all mankind, even for you and even for me.

See, even though we don’t know the depth of our sin, this little one who is God in the flesh knows all about it.  He knows the full length and breadth and depth of the bondage of sin.  He has come to save humanity.  He has come to be redeemer.  He has come to be man to rescue us.

We may well say, “My sin is so great!  These words may well be meant for St. Luke or St. Paul or for the prophet Isaiah, but they can’t be for me.”  Yet, the angel said, “For you.”  Indeed, Jesus, Christ the Lord, has come to become your great sin.  He has come not be cooed upon or to be our buddy.  He has come to ascend the cross and die.  He has come to bleed and die for our sins so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.

One might say, “How can we know that Jesus has come for me?”  Did the angel speak the word to the sheep?  Of course not!  Did the angel speak the word to the sheep dog or to any other critters that may have been on that hillside outside of Bethlehem?  Did the angel speak to the trees or the stones or the pasture?  No!

The angel spoke to shepherds, to men, to human beings.  Jesus came not as dog or cow or rock, but as man.  He came to redeem the crown of His creation so that in Jesus all creation might be restored.

We may well say, “But my husband, my wife, my loved one is gone!”  Christ the Lord has been born FOR YOU.  This little one brings comfort, for He has come to put death to death.  His invitation is for life to all who trust in Him by faith.

On this night, as death does not take a holiday, as all that is associated with death makes death’s hold known, we look to the little one born in Bethlehem, for only in this little one born to die is there rescue.  No one else is savior and redeemer.  No one else has been born to die and rise.  We hear the angel’s good news in that little word:  FOR YOU.  Glory to God in the highest, for indeed He has come to bring peace with God.  It is indeed a blessed Christmas, for Jesus has come.  Even as we rejoice to go with the shepherds and see this thing that has happened, He comes to us again, FOR YOU, coming under bread and wine and giving us Himself as He gave Himself so long ago.  As we hear of His coming FOR YOU, as He comes to us tonight, so we long to see Him when He appears in glory.





September 4, 2016 Sermon

6 09 2016

Pentecost 16 C 2016 Text

Luke 14:25-35

25 Now great crowds accompanied [Jesus], and he turned and said to them,

26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.

27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.

28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30aying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’

31 Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace.

33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

34 “Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? 35 It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away.

He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen

Christian discipleship.  Probably most of us don’t bristle at these words, but all of us should.  Either we ought to recoil at the phrase Christian discipleship it’s tragically inconvenient, or we should recoil at the phrase because we’d like to be the ones to determine if someone else is a disciple.

Reading today’s Gospel text, Jesus talks about discipleship to great crowds that were following Him.  A Christian disciple is one who follows Jesus.  Jesus gets to define what being His follower looks like and what it means.  In today’s Gospel, Jesus uses six short lessons to tell what being His disciple, His follower is.

26“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.

This is tough!  Would Jesus really say that being His disciple would mean breaking the Fourth and Fifth Commandments?  But, there’s that word:  hate.  As my professor Dr. Tschatchula said, “Sie mussen nicht hassen.”  You must not hate.  So, what gives?

What’s the first commandment and the explanation given in the Catechism?

You shall have no other gods before Me.

We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.

It’s hard to imagine, but family – father, mother, sister, brother – can easily become an idol, something loved more than Jesus.  That’s especially true when looking for a rich, full life for our family at the expense of hearing God’s Word.  Jesus’ call isn’t to go intentionally breaking the commandment, but to fear, love, and trust Him above all things.  In His words, Jesus tells us that we really don’t know how to love family anyway.

27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.

It’s said all the time:  “Well, this is my cross.  I’ll just have to bear it and know Jesus is near.”  That’s kind of a precious moments definition of Jesus’ words.  In fact, as 21st century North Americans, we don’t have a clue as to what Jesus is saying.

Jesus’ first century hearers, on the other hand, knew exactly what he was talking about.  The cross wasn’t my kid disobeying or my financial woes or some kind of cancer.  The cross was far worse.  To those ears, the cross meant only one thing:  the most painful, most agonizing, in fact, most SHAMEFUL death imaginable.  A far cry from today’s sanitary death chambers for executions, the cross meant struggling to breathe, hanging naked before the world to see and ridicule.

The cost of the tower and the king going to war, those are things we understand.  But, then Jesus says,

33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

The Greek word for renounce is the word from which we get apostasy.  It means bid farewell, forsake, even separate oneself.  Separate oneself from all that he has and holds dear.

Then comes those words about salt:

34“Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? 35It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away.

Again, for us 21st century North Americans, this statement is a little puzzling:  salt losing its taste.  We go to HEB or wherever to buy salt and it’s not really expensive.  For Jesus’ first century hearers, on the other hand, the situation was far different.  Salt had to be mined and broken out of rock.  Getting the salt separated from the rock and the dirt and the impurities was a difficult task.  If the impurities remained, then salt lost its saltiness – not even good enough to throw onto the manure pile.

Jesus’ words about discipleship are a far different picture than the life we lead today.  Renouncing, turning back on all that’s held dear for the name of Jesus.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame blues guitarist Albert King recorded the song Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven but Nobody Wants to Die.  I listened to the recording on Youtube the other day.  Great, classic blues guitar licks in that recording.

To borrow the words of Albert King and modify them a bit:  Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die…to himself.

Jesus’ words uncover a horrible reality.  That reality is that our lives are so often at odds with following Jesus and all – ALL – our attempts to follow His direction are more like a Keystone Cops episode.  We have to confess that, in fact, we are the guy who can’t finish the tower.  We are the king who is doomed to defeat.  We’re brought to confess that, not only are we not able to count the cost, we don’t even know the cost of following Jesus.

In today’s Old Testament Lesson, Moses speaks words that are the sweetest comfort.  Moses said:

Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, 20 loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.”

In those words spoken by Moses, there’s not a choice to be made.  The choice has already been made.  Beginning with the covenant spoken to Abraham, the choice had been made the Lord God.  That choice was continued through Isaac and Jacob.  It was by the hand of the Lord God that there was wailing in Egypt on the night of the Passover, and the Lord God delivered Israel with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm as they passed through the sea on dry ground.  Israel belonged to the Lord.  He had redeemed them.  It wasn’t a choice of Law, but the sweetest words Israel had heard earlier:  I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slaves.

So it is for us.  We can’t even begin to calculate the cost, but Jesus knows it fully.  He is the one who has counted the cost and redeemed His bride the Church and her Christians.  You have been chosen!  In the waters of your baptism, by the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ death and resurrection, His payment of redemption, was put upon you!  In faith, clinging to Jesus above all others, there is life in Jesus’ choice.

See, in the Father’s house, loving Father, loving our mother the Church, loving our brother Jesus and our brothers and sisters in the faith, only in Jesus are we able truly to love father and mother and sister and brother.

Only in Jesus who bore the cross, scorning the most hideous and shameful of deaths, only in Him are we given to taking up the cross of shame from the world, enduring for the sake of Jesus’ name.

Only in Jesus who renounced all things, even His heavenly glory and the honor due Him so that He might redeem us, are we brought to renounce all things for the sake of His name.  It’s amazing to hear followers of Jesus who are so surprised at the animosity borne by the world to the Church and her Christians because of the name of Jesus.  Yet, in these words, Jesus tells us that it will happen.  One can scarcely think of renouncing their family because of Jesus, but it happens.  I can remember speaking to a student at the seminary.  She was an American Baptist from Taiwan.  When she was brought to faith in Christ, her family held a funeral service for her.

Only in Jesus and His purity are the impurities of this world purged, and it’s only the word about Jesus that seasons the earth and its inhabitants.

Only in Jesus.  Following Jesus.  Beginning and ending with Jesus.  That’s Christian discipleship.  The cost is that Jesus has given us is His life.  Dying to ourselves, we are no longer our own, but are chosen in Him and given His life.  So many want a rich full life that ends only in death.  Only in Jesus is there the rich, full life that extends into eternity, even though it may not look that way for the present.  Only in Jesus.

He who has ears, let him hear.  AMEN





Independence Day

4 07 2016

It’s July 4.  Independence Day in the United States.  On this day in 1776, the Continental Congress met in Philadelphia to sign the Declaration of Independence.  The movement brought the wrath of the British empire to bear on its colonies in the New World.  Most of us know a little something about the Revolutionary War and our heritage as Americans.

As of this writing, it would seem that the fabric of the nation founded upon liberty is coming unraveled.  Rights without responsibility are being championed and the liberties enjoyed by many have been swallowed up by what I’d call tyranny.  I’ve heard words like fascism, socialism, and communism thrown around in recent years.  The religious liberty which had marked our nation in years past is now, unfortunately, becoming a thing of the past.

Before I write what comes next, let me give a little explanation.  I love being an American.  I am a veteran.  I have gone into harm’s way under our flag and would do it again if called.  I can’t sing the Star-Spangled Banner without tears coming to my eyes, and hearing the history of the writing of our national anthem brings a lump to my throat.  I’m one of those who can’t watch the flag raising on Mt. Suribachi enough times.

That said, it’s important for me to remember something as a follower of Jesus.  As much as I love this nation, it will come and go.  So do all nations of the world.  They come and go.  In 410 A.D., Rome, which seemed as if it would last forever, was sacked by the Visigoths.  The Holy Roman Empire fell, too.

What remains and will continue to remain into eternity is the Church.  The New Testament Canon which Rome had endeavored to squelch at various times outlasted the empire.  The Church continues and will remain into eternity.  That’s Jesus’ promise to us.  The promise of our Lord continually directs us to the Last Day, the day of resurrection.  In Revelation 11, the account of the two witnesses gives us the picture that this life will be anything but certain.  Congregations will come and go, just like nations.  Yet, for the holy Church, there is resurrection.  Our minds are continually occupied with heaven.

On this Independence Day, it’s important for us to pray for our nation and for our leaders.  It’s important for us as we approach November to be in prayer to our Lord who establishes all authority in heaven and on earth that He would give us godly, devout leaders who cherish life and the defenseless.  It’s important for us to pray that the good news about Jesus be preached with free course in the liberties we have enjoyed in the past.

It’s equally important for us to know that our own day of deliverance is always on the horizon, the day when our Lord Jesus appears in glory.  That day will come, even though today might be filled with trouble and affliction.  We pray, then, to be kept faithful.  We pray that we confess faithfully Christ crucified and risen.  And, each day, we pray with John at the end of Revelation:  Come quickly, Lord Jesus.





History Through Baseball

25 06 2016

In 1870, a fledgling National Association baseball team was established in Boston.  The team, the Boston Red Stockings, joined the National League in 1876 when the National Association folded.  The name was changed in 1883 to the Boston Beaneaters for two reasons.  You really have to ask a question about beans and Boston, also known as Bean town?  Secondly, there was already a Red Stocking team in Cincinnati in the American Association.

The name changed again in 1912 when they became known as the Boston Braves.  This name’s significance might escape some youngsters who don’t know a whole lot of history or aren’t taught it.  The history of the name Braves actually goes back to 1773 and a little get together in which tea was tossed into Boston Harbor by a group known as the Sons of Liberty who just happened to be disguised as Native Americans.  This became known as the Boston Tea Party.  The Boston Braves, at least in my mind, paid homage to the city’s proud heritage of the American Revolution.

Of course, the Braves moved to Milwaukee and then to Atlanta.  Famous names such as Jim Thorpe, Rogers Hornsby, Babe Ruth, and Hank Aaron all wore the Braves uniform at one time or another.  But, if we pay attention, the Boston Braves still call us to cherish the independent spirit for which Americans are known.

On Thursday, in a heated, sometimes tragic, race, Great Britain elected to leave the European Union.  From what I’ve read, many of the British wanted their sovereignty back.  There were those, of course, who desired to stay in the EU, but the independent minded held the day on Thursday.

Now, I have no clue of the ins and outs of international finance.  The economies of the world are largely just over the horizon to my knowledge.  Just so you know a little about me, my heritage is largely English, along with Scottish and Irish.  According to my Uncle Robert who did much of the research, my family has at least five great-grandfathers who fought with the rebels in the American Revolutionary War.  I am a native Texan because one of my ancestors came from New England to join the Texans in their revolution.  It would be proper of me to say God Save the Queen, Don’t Tread on Me, and Come and Take It.

The recent vote by Great Britain to leave the European Union has been getting a lot of attention.  England didn’t seem to want to have a foreign body based elsewhere making decisions about the English nation.  Sounds like the English learned a lesson from some guys throwing tea into Boston Harbor, an event remembered by the name Braves.

 

Again, consulting my own heritage, it might be a good time to pour a little American spirit and join England in saying, “God save the queen!”





Daniel 6 and the Power of Prayer

5 06 2016

Suffice it to say that the details of these verses can really bog us down.  What is a satrap?  Or a president?  Suffice it to say these were government officials appointed by King Darius.  It was a government bureaucracy, if you want to call it that.  The task of these men was to serve the king by ruling various regions.

One of the principle leaders, a president, was Daniel – that Daniel.  He was about 80 years old.  He had proven himself to King Nebuchadnezzar when the Babylonians were in power.  Now he excelled with the Medes and Persians.  That made the other guys mad.

Let’s just say it was envy in their hearts that brought about the whole situation, appealing to the king’s arrogance.  They wanted to slander old Daniel.

So reading through this chapter, and thinking about prayer, there’s something striking.  Like I said, Daniel was about 80.  Notice what the text tells us.  Daniel opened his window, faced toward Jerusalem where Mt. Zion was, where the temple had been, and knelt down in prayer.  Three times each day at the hours of prayer, Daniel knelt down.  It was the same routine.  It was what God had commanded.

But, the evil guys who didn’t like Daniel now had him in a bind.  Trapped by treachery, Daniel was under attack because of his faithfulness.  He was caught by the king’s arrogance, and therefore condemned to the lions’ den.

Now, we all know about Daniel.  The king loved old Daniel and it grieved his heart, but the law was the law.  So, into the lions’ den old Daniel went at sunset.  It was a bad night for the king.  In the morning, the king ran to the lions’ den and called out to Daniel, fully expecting to hear silence in return.

But, it was Daniel’s voice the king heard.  Daniel had spent the night in prayer.  God in His faithfulness, because of His mercy, sent His angel to stop the mouths of the lion.  God in His mercy had heard Daniel.

Now, this is going to sound a little strange, but we schooled on prayer pretty well in this text.  There are a few lessons, and they’re great lessons, lessons that come from the mercy of the Triune God.

First, everything about prayer begins and ends with Jesus, even with this Old Testament man named Daniel.  See, for Daniel, he faced Jerusalem, the holy city, where Mt. Zion stood.  It was the place where the temple had been.  The temple, the mountain of Zion, even the city, all were forerunners of Jesus.  All came from God’s promised Messiah.  That’s where Daniel’s faith was centered, in the promise of the Messiah, Jesus.  Daniel looked forward, looking ahead.  He might not see the fulfillment, but He certainly expected God’s fulfillment at His chosen time.

For us, like Daniel, we look to Jesus, but we look back to the cross.  We look to the place of Jesus’ bleeding and dying for sinners.  The greatest comfort is in the wounds of our Lord Jesus Christ who was crucified and raised.  All of God’s promises are bound to Jesus who was dead and is alive forevermore.

Now, we heard a lot of this last week, but reading Daniel, we need to hear it again, and to learn it, and, like those who were confirmed a few weeks ago, memorize it.

Prayer is an act of worship.  It’s one that God has given us in mercy.  We can say all kinds of things about prayer, but first and foremost, it’s an act of worship.  God loves to hear us holding up His promises before Him just like He loved to hear Daniel doing the same.  This is a First Commandment thing.  God says have no other gods before Him.  In prayer, we worship Him alone, fearing and loving Him, trusting Him to do what He says.

So, prayer is an act of worship and God gives us His name to call upon in prayer.  There’s nothing to figure out here.  It’s Second Commandment stuff.  No, we’re not supposed to misuse God’s name, but He gives us His name to call upon it in prayer and praise.  God fully expects us and even commands us to use His name to call upon Him in every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks.

The true God has given us the act of worship called prayer, and He’s given us His name to call upon in prayer.  Thus, God commands us to pray.  We are His true children.  He has called us such in our baptism.  In Jesus’ death and resurrection by the Holy Spirit, the Father is pleased to call us His children.  That’s the promise of your Baptism.  As a true Father, He wants to hear from His true children.  This is Third Commandment stuff here.  He gives us the command, the promise, and the guide for prayer all in His word.  That prayer at the beginning, it was the end of Psalm 19.  There’s that great prayer of Elijah and Jesus words in Luke 7.  He loves it when we in faith hold up His word to Him.

God has given us the act of worship called prayer, and He’s given us His name to call upon in prayer, and commanded us to pray.  Because God loves us, because He is our God, the only God, because He has given us His name and commanded us to pray, He promises to hear us.  He hears us not because our prayers are so great, but because of His merciful promise.  He has promised to hear and, according to His wisdom to answer.

This would be a really great Bible story to talk about the power of prayer.  I hear that all the time.  My prayers have no power – they really don’t – because they come from me.  I don’t believe in power of prayer, but I know the merciful promise of My Father in heaven that He will hear me for the sake of Jesus and answer me.  See, in prayer, I don’t change God, but He changes me.  He moves me to trust in Him, reminding me that His grace is sufficient for me.

May God the Holy Spirit keep us firm in the faith, learning from the example of Daniel.  AMEN





Pentecost

16 05 2016

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen

So what’s it all about?  It’s Pentecost Sunday.  Reading these first twenty-one verses of Acts, there’s all kinds of stuff going on.  Is it about a mighty, rushing wind?  Is it about cloven tongues of fire?  Or, is it about the disciples standing and speaking in other tongues, not some unintelligible babbling but actual other human languages?  Is it about Jewish guys slandering the apostle guys by saying they’re drunk?  Is it about Peter’s sermon?

Truth is, today’s about faith.  It really is.  The sound of the mighty rushing wind, the cloven tongues of fire identifying the apostles, the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the Church, the speaking of the mighty deeds of God in other languages, it’s about faith, the faith passed down through the apostles, the faith which we believe.

So the mighty rushing wind signals the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon the Church built upon Jesus.  The cloven tongues of fire mark the disciples as apostles, sent guys, sent for the purpose of Christ.  They proclaim the mighty deeds of God, the mighty deeds of the rescue of Noah, the rescue of Israel in the Exodus, and all the mighty deeds of the Old Testament.  What’s more, people hear them in their own language, people from every nation under heaven.

Peter stands up and begins to speak.  He proclaims that the fulfillment of the prophet Joel is in Jesus.  Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.  At the end of his sermon, Peter is asked by many hearers:  What shall we do?  Peter told them to repent, to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for forgiveness, and they would be saved.  A lot of folks want to make that into a process, but it’s not.  It’s about faith – trusting in Jesus Christ.

Peter told those same hearers that this promise – the one calling on the name of Jesus would be saved – that same promise is given to them and to their children and to all who are far off.  The promise is that, working through the good news about Jesus, God the Holy Spirit creates people and makes them new.

In the good news about Jesus, the Holy Spirit brings Jesus to you, creating faith, making us new.  Okay, we all know how to answer the question:  How does the Holy Spirit get into our hearts to create faith?  Through our ears!  It’s about faith, the faith, our faith.

One of the things we learned in Catechism class was the means of grace.  The other night I asked the confirmands to tell me about the means of grace.  They both said rightly, and everyone should learn this – learn it, because it won’t hurt you.  The means of grace are those means through which God puts us into possession of the redemption earned by Jesus.  God puts us into possession of the redemption earned by Jesus.

The other part of that lesson is that we receive it by faith.  We receive it by faith.  The Holy Spirit working through the word about Jesus creates and strengthens and sustains faith.  He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies Christians, even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one, true faith.

In your baptism, you were brought to faith.  There will be those who will challenge you, but I want to tell you a really important Bible verse:  1 Corinthians 12:3 – No one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.  Let’s hear that again:  No one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.  This isn’t about age or how smart someone is or anything else.  Faith is the work of God the Holy Spirit – period, end of discussion.

As you come to the Lord’s table, you have the promise that Jesus gives you His body and blood – His very, very real body and blood that was sacrificed for you on the cross – He gives that to you under bread and wine.

Now, that’s either the most preposterous, bombastic snake oil in history, or it’s the truth.  The Holy Spirit, working through the good news about Jesus, teaches us all that Jesus has given.  By the Spirit, we know that Jesus gives us His body and blood under bread and wine – we know it!  And, receiving, we receive the blessings of forgiveness and life and eternal salvation.

It’s about faith – the faith, our faith.  Years after Peter preached the sermon on the day of Pentecost, in a letter, he wrote:  But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light; 10 Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.

Through Jesus’ commissioning and sending, the Holy Spirit took twelve men who weren’t all that bold, who were greatly concerned about things of this life, and transformed them.  They were transformed into bold preachers.  Their view of the things of this world was transformed so that everything was seen from an other-worldly point of view.

Working through the Word about Jesus, that’s what the Spirit does.  He takes people, men and women, boys and girls, and transforms them into completely different people.  They are no longer people of this world, but people who are children of God through Jesus.

People of God, those who have been brought into the household of God in the waters of Holy Baptism, you are a peculiar people.  You belong exclusively to God the Father through Jesus by the Holy Spirit.  You are not of this world, this broken, dying world.  Rather, you are looking for the life to come, a life of resurrection.  It’s about faith, the faith, our faith.

By the Holy Spirit’s working through the Word about Jesus, through the Spirit’s work in the waters of Holy Baptism, as the Spirit works through the promise Jesus gives you in His Holy Supper, the Church and her Christians are different, peculiar.  This past Wednesday in Bible Class we started talking about how the Church and her Christians live in this world:  we’re resident aliens.

We live by the faith that’s based in Jesus who was dead and is alive.  The other night, I asked the confirmands to recite 1 Corinthians 15:3 and following.  It goes like this:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.

Paul goes through a whole list of people to whom a very much alive Jesus appeared after His resurrection.  This is no mass hysteria – nobody could pull that off.  No, this is faith based in actual, historical even that’s transmitted by the testimony of the apostles.  This is the good news through which the Spirit works.

Even though we live in this city of man, we long for the city of God.  And, in hope, we cling to Jesus – the one calling on the name of the Lord will be saved, Peter proclaimed.  Peter by the guiding of the Holy Spirit was calling hearts to believe.

Today, on this Pentecost Sunday, we’re taught whose we are.  We’re taught that by the Holy Spirit working through the Good News about Jesus, we who were not a people, not anything really, are changed, transformed.  We’re shaped into the people of God.  We’re a peculiar people, one claimed exclusively by God the Father through Jesus by the Holy Spirit.

We live in faith, the faith handed down to us, our faith that we confess with the whole Church in heaven and on earth.  Our ways are different.  Our language is different.  Our hope is completely opposite that of this life.  Later in Acts 2, we’re taught that those of the Church devoted themselves continually to the apostles’ doctrine and the fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers.  That’s different.  That’s peculiar.  That’s life lived in this life with an eye toward the life to come.  That’s the life of faith.

Pentecost isn’t about being Super Christians with capes on our backs and big Cs on our chest.  We’re not called to that.  That’s not the faith.  No, we’re called to be the Church – that body of Christ kept with Jesus in the one true faith by the Spirit until Jesus appears in glory.

We’re called to be the Church that proclaims Jesus, whose Christians’ lives are set apart because of faith.  In every calling in life, in the life of faith, it points to the peculiarity of the word about Jesus.  We’re called to be peculiar in this life, living here with an eye to the life to come.  That’s by faith, the work of the Holy Spirit.

C. S. Lewis famously wrote, If you read history you will find that the Christians who did the most for the present world were just those who thought the most of the next…they left their mark on earth precisely because their minds were occupied with heaven.

May God the Holy Spirit so guide us and keep us as God’s peculiar people, people who confess the one true faith.  May He keep us with Jesus Christ and shape us through the Good News about Jesus, that calling on the name of the Lord in this life, we may be delivered to everlasting life.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN